BOSTON (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union and defense attorneys are asking Massachusetts' highest court to order an investigation into what they describe as rampant misconduct in the Springfield Police Department.
The petition filed with the Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday says the state has not comprehensively examined mounting evidence of violence by officers in the western Massachusetts police department even after the U.S. Justice Department found last year that its narcotics officers routinely use excessive force with no accountability.
The group is also demanding an investigation into whether prosecutors in the Hampden Country District Attorney's Office are properly disclosing evidence of police misconduct to defense attorneys. The petition says the prosecutors' office appears to routinely fail to give defendants such evidence that could help their case, as they are entitled.
“Despite lawsuits, indictments, news articles, judicial findings, and the DOJ Report, the Commonwealth has not investigated the full scope and gravity of misconduct within the SPD. Nor has the HCDAO established sufficient policies within its own agency to ensure that misconduct is discovered and disclosed to defendants," the petition filed says.
A spokesperson for the district attorney's office said it is “committed to fairness and justice for all.”
“The ACLU’s filing is a misdirected political effort supported by biased opinions and falsehoods. It is baseless and inaccurate and we will litigate it as such,” Jim Leydon said in an email.
Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said in an emailed statement that the department has not yet reviewed the filing, but stressed that she has been working to “modernize” the police force and “prioritize training and public service.”
"We have seen positive early results including our mental health professional co-responder program, our approach to illegal firearms and a prioritization of internal affairs and holding all of our officers and employees accountable to the people of Springfield at all times, and we will continue those efforts,” she said.
The Justice Department under President Donald Trump last year found that officers in Springfield's narcotics bureau routinely punched people in the face unnecessarily during arrests and other encounters. Officers regularly resort to blows to the head to gain compliance even when the person isn’t a physical threat without ever being disciplined for their misconduct, investigators found.
“Tellingly, a former Narcotics Bureau officer reported that people know that if you mess with the SPD or try to run, you ‘get a beat down,’” investigators wrote.
Despite that, as of July there had been no sustained findings of excessive force with in the department against a narcotics bureau officer in the last six years, investigators said.
The top federal prosecutor for Massachusetts said at the time that city officials cooperated with the investigation and had “made clear their commitment to genuine reform.”